Ayre of the Last God
(Book III of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY


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"Mrowrrr... So there you are, my lady. I've looked everywhere for you, it seems," D'Viall called.

L'Sala looked up briefly from the wounded warrior she was tending. The castle infirmary was already full, and it was only the evening of the first day. The twenty-three wounded toms would live - though, for some, it would be months before they were ready to fight again. "Mrr... Yes, here I am, my lord Seneschal. Is there something wrong?"

"Mrr... No, my lady, I was merely concerned for your whereabouts," D'Viall replied, and smiled briefly before he continued. "Miao... The enemy has apparently given up on direct assault, for now, and has decided to settle into a siege, as we hoped. Even now, their woodcutters and craftsmen assault the woods, felling and shaping the lumber they will need to build catapults - and perhaps a siege tower or two. I think..." D'Viall said, his voice trailing off as he looked on curiously. As he watched, L'Sala applied a pink, pasty goo from a jar to the wounded leg of one of the warriors. To D'Viall's amazement, the warrior's expression eased, as though his pain had completely vanished. "Mrow? My lady... What is that?"

The wounded tom grinned from the bed at D'Viall. "Mrowrr! Heaven, my lord Seneschal, and nearly as sweet as Lady L'Sala herself," he said, and chuckled.

A smile flickered at L'Sala's lips for a moment, then she sealed the jar and began applying fresh bandages to the wounded tom's leg. "Miao... It is an unguent of the mus, Lord D'Viall. They call it 'bloodmoss.' Lord R'Narr apparently managed to collect several jars of it over the years from the bodies of mus healers killed in various battles. It stops pain, speeds healing, and helps prevent infection. I know not what it is made of, however, I only know that it works." L'Sala then struggled for a moment to rise from where she knelt by the bed, and D'Viall reached out a paw beneath her shoulder, helping her. "Mrr... My thanks, Lord D'Viall," L'Sala said, rubbing her lower back for a moment.

D'Viall looked to L'Sala's belly, swollen with pregnancy beneath her blue dress. "Mrowrrr... Will you be alright, my lady?"

"Miao... I am fine, Lord D'Viall, simply tired," she replied. Turning to D'Viall, she saw he was gazing at her belly, and smiled. "Mrr... I am not due for another four months, Lord D'Viall. Do not worry," she said, then looked at him with the calm, emotionless gaze of a Mentalt. "Miao... Now, my lord - you were about to say something? You think...? You think what, Lord Seneschal?"

D'Viall paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts before he spoke. "Mrow... Well, my lady, I think it will take them at least two weeks before they have their first catapult prepared, and perhaps a month after that before they have their first siege-tower complete. Things will become quite difficult, after that, but we still should be able to hold out for about two months before our water runs out," D'Viall replied, leaving the conclusion unspoken. It wasn't wise to simply say aloud that two months wouldn't be long enough, and that it would likely be three months before Lord R'Narr's forces were able to relieve them. No, that was something the wounded toms in the castle infirmary didn't need to hear, and certainly wasn't something he needed being passed around in nervous whispers by his warriors. There was still the chance that L'Sala had, somehow, managed to arrange the relief force she said she would try to get. D'Viall didn't need his warriors deserting before that relief arrived.

L'Sala nodded. "Mrr... Can we prevent them from building their catapults and other weapons?"

"Miao... No, my lady. We do not have enough forces available to us to launch a strike from the castle. If we had a pawful of Nistu-assassins at our disposal, we might be able to do something about it, but we don't."

L'Sala nodded - the Nistu were special mercenary-clans among the cats, clans not linked by blood or fealty oaths, but by profession. Of all the various Nistu-clans, the largest and most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) were the Noxatii. The Noxatii were a clan of assassins, highly skilled and very deadly in the arts of infiltration, stealth, and murder. Though few in number compared with other, more ordinary mercenary clans, they were feared by many for their deadly skills. "Mrr... I already looked into hiring the Noxatii a month ago, Lord D'Viall, but the Old Tom of the Mountain refused. He says he wishes to wait to see which side will win this civil war before he commits his clan to an action that may simply anger the winner. Deadly though they may be, they are still a very small clan, and an army under the claw of the Shazad or Lord R'Narr could easily crush them."

"Fsst! Bah! Let them dream their catnip-dreams, then. We'll find a way to win without them," D'Viall replied, and grinned recklessly.

"Miao... Lord D'Viall, you will probably be surprised to learn that the rumors of the Noxatii are untrue. It is a widely known fact among the Mentalts of T'Masa Keep that the Noxatii do not use catnip - it is forbidden to them, as it is to the nuns of T'Masa."

D'Viall saw the cool expression on L'Sala's face, and bowed his head. "Mrow... I beg your pardon, my lady, I was only..."

L'Sala smiled briefly. "Mrr... Do not worry, Lord Seneschal. I was not offended," she said, then yawned. "Mrr... For now, I must rest. I fear tomorrow will be a long day - and one of many to come. Good evening, Lord D'Viall."

"Mrowr... Good evening, my lady," D'Viall replied, bowing to her as she turned and left the infirmary. D'Viall gazed quietly after her, stroking his whiskers in thought. 'Yes, my lady, there will be many long days ahead of us,' he thought, and walked out the infirmary door.

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Chapter One<<<<